Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dorney Park History: Cedar Fair Purchase

Going though old amusement park stuff I have can really do wonders for sparking the creativity needed to publish a blog like this. That said, I recently came across a bunch of stuff from the time period when Cedar Fair was making moves toward purchasing Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom.

We all know that the park has had some troubles working with the local government to get rides approved through the years, but it was quite an ordeal to get Cedar Fair to purchase the property ... to the point where they even dropped out of negotiations, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Here's a timeline format of the process, that'll make it easier on everyone's eyes. Attached are time-period-correct photos of the property for good measure.

Ready for a great story of greed, power, and politics? Then read on...

Late January, 1992: The park, under leadership of Harry Weinstein, releases a statement acknowledging that they have reached an agreement with Cedar Fair, L.P. to purchase the park. At the time Harry Weinstein had 50% ownership of the park, while Jean Harries - the widow of Stephen Plarr, had the other interest in the park. Under Mr. Weinstein's 6+ year tenure, the park invested more than $50-60 million in new rides and attractions.

Early February, 1992: The first issue with the sale comes forth, waste water issues from Wildwater Kingdom. All attractions in the water park except the lazy river dump backwash into Cedar Creek; this chemically treated water is deemed unacceptable by the state Dept. of Environmental Resources. Fixing the problem by connecting the whole water park to South Whitehall Township's sewer system lays with Weinstein - and on his dollar.

Mid-February, 1992: It's made public that Cedar Fair wants to purchase or lease 46 acres of land next to Dorney Park, which eventually became the overflow parking lot. Immediately talks with Lehigh County, who owns the property, begin.

Late February, 1992: An agreement is made that Weinstein and Dorney Park will pay sewer hookup fees according to rates for the years each ride was added to the property. Despite the agreement being made, much fighting takes place between Weinstein and South Whitehall Township.

Early March, 1992: Cedar Fair proposes a 99 year lease with the county for the 46 acres of land at $4,000 per acre, with a 2% increase every 5 years. The County decided to hire an appraiser to decide what the land is worth as it relates to the amusement park.

The South Whitehall Township commissioners meet with Kinzel and the gang from Ohio for the first time. Kinzel speaks of plans of adding an enclosed dinner theatre, science pavilion for kids, and a Berenstain Bear area to the park. Cedar Fair hopes to increase attendance from 1.3 million to 1.7 million over 5 years while spending $20-25 million on the property at the same time.

Mid-March, 1992: The first appraisal of the 46 acres that Cedar Fair wanted to lease comes back, and places the land at $55,000 an acre, or $2.53 million. Quickly, a second appraisal is ordered, due to claims that the individual who performed the first one could be biased because of their involvement in other local tax assessment appeals. Local government officials and business owners urge the county commissioners to quicken their pace of the land assessment so as not to chase away Cedar Fair.

Early April, 1992: The second land appraisal comes back at $84,348 per acre, or $3.88 million. Cedar Fair counters with an offer of $4,300 per acre a year, as a 99 year lease - an increase of $300 an acre. Soon after, it's announced that a deal was struck between Cedar Fair, the county commissioners, and Weinstein - who would be helping to pay the difference between what Cedar Fair offered and what the county wanted. Additionally, Cedar Fair has to agree to use local contractors to expand the park and cannot build a hotel or restaurant on the 46 acres.

Mid-April, 1992: Suddenly the county demands that Cedar Fair sign a contract stipulating their plans for the 46 acres, that it won't be for a hotel, that they won't sub-lease the land, that they will spend a set amount of money on the park, creation of jobs, etc. This didn't tickle Cedar Fair the right way and they started to back out. Cedar Fair did not like the land use restriction, job creation, and spending on the park stipulations in the contract.

Soon after, Cedar Fair formally ended talks with all parties about purchasing Dorney Park due to the problems with the price of the 46 acres of land they wanted next to the park. We all know who ended up owning the park though ... so the twists and turns are not over!

Late April, 1992: Surprise! The negotiation continues. It's revealed that Cedar Fair offered to purchase the land for $70,000 an acre with no restrictions, no contract on land use of any sort. It's also revealed that the county commissioners still said no to that offer.

Cedar Fair then offered $70,200 per acre to the county, with Weinstein paying $500,000 of that amount to try to get the deal done. Also, Cedar Fair agreed to use the land for parking and rides (only parking ever happened which makes this silly) for the first 10 years, and promised $15 million to be spent on the park in the following six years. The county again said no, still wanting the full assessed value of the land. Cedar Fair again formally ended talks and said the deal was off, dead in the water.

Early May, 1992: Dorney Park opened for its 108th season, still under the leadership of Mr. Weinstein. Dorney Park also has an hour long press conference blaming the Lehigh County commissioners for killing the deal with Cedar Fair, citing their inability to bend on a purchase price of the 46 acres of land that Cedar Fair wanted to buy.

Mid-May, 1992: Now things just became a broken record: Suddenly Cedar Fair offered $75,000 per acre for the land, and you guessed it, the commissioners said no to the offer. Dorney Park had tried to get the negotiations moving once more by throwing in more money to make up the difference between what Cedar Fair would pay and what the county wanted.

Soon after, it's announced that the county would agree to sell the land for $77,000 and acre, with no restrictions on Cedar Fair regarding its use. Dorney Park would be throwing in the extra cash to meet the new, higher amount per acre. It's agreed that Cedar Fair will purchase the park by the end of June, 1992, and that it would purchase the 46 acres of land within 45 days of buying the park.

Before the sale went through, Mr. Weinstein reflected on his past with the park and what changes could be seen in the future. Among those changes, a suspended coaster, wild river ride, the connection of both parks into one, a new train ride, and a new entrance area with fountains, a double decker carousel, and a large pool that would be used for ice skating during the winter. Also mentioned was a river rapid ride that would be in the area where mini-golf and a pavilion were located on the park's hill (area where Joker was).

Before Cedar Fair purchased the park, Mr. Weinstein's future expansion plans for Dorney included another coaster and flume ride on the employee parking lot hill, an amphitheater built into that hill, and a new Castle Garden near the location of the former one. He also said that plans were being made to make Hercules bigger after it lost its title as world's tallest, but stopped when negotiations with Cedar Fair began - but promised that changes would take place in the future - including tunnels and more camel humps.

Late May, 1992: The county officially votes and approves the sale of the 46 acres to Cedar Fair. The sale is expected soon after.

Mid July, 1992: Once the 46 acres is formally surveyed by Engineers, it's revealed that the county actually only has 41 acres to offer. Road expansion in the area had eaten away at the overall size of the land. The South Whitehall Township commissioners also approved an agreement regarding the sewer hookups for Wildwater Kingdom, at the time viewed as the last obstacle before the sale could take place.

July 21st, 1992: Cedar Fair purchases Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom for $48 million. Weinstein and Jean Harries received $21 million worth of Cedar Fair units, while Cedar Fair assumed $27 million of the park's debt. William E. Near is appointed Vice President and General Manager of Dorney as well.

By the end of the year, Cedar Fair proposed Red Garter Saloon and White Water Landing ... which started more fights with local government, and well, the rest is history!

That's it! If I have any facts wrong, please, let me know.


Unknown said...

Even if you had some facts wrong great review and I mean it. Thank You.

NewsPlusNotes said...


It took a while to do the research and make sure the facts were correct ... and honestly the response has been a bummer. Oh well!

Unknown said...

Thank you so so much for the history... really really fascinating!

Unknown said...

Who was responsible for razing the Journey to the Center of the Earth? Was it Cedar Fair, since they already owned the park by fall 1992? Why was it one of the first things to go after the CF takeover? Didn't they like it or something? That was one of my favorite rides, and old mills are rare so as it is. Rye Playland still has their's. Oh, and RIP Bob and Sally (Plarr) Ott.